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Pope scores anti-abuse hat-trick: “epochal” legal reforms and removal of assault-accused nuncio in Paris

Pope Francis scored an anti-abuse hat-trick December 17 with two “epochal” legal reforms and the removal of the assault-accused nuncio in Paris, Luigi Ventura.

Driving the news

The Vatican announced Tuesday that the Pope had accepted the resignation of Ventura, who passed the Vatican-mandated retirement age for bishops of 75 on December 9.

Ventura, the Italian-born nuncio in Paris since 2009, has been under investigation since March, when a young male official at Paris City Hall accused the Vatican diplomat of having touched him inappropriately at a January New Year address by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

That March complaint is still under investigation by Paris police – who have taken testimonies from witnesses and at least two other potential victims – but the matter is yet to go to trial.

After that first French report of inappropriate behaviour on the part of Ventura, another Canadian man came forward alleging that the Vatican diplomat had touched his buttocks at least twice during a banquet at a basilica near Quebec.

Ventura served as the Pope’s representative in Canada from 2001 to 2009.

French prosecutors had asked in March that the Holy See lift Ventura’s diplomatic immunity so that the prelate could face questioning.

That request by the French authorities was granted by the Vatican in July, but in September reports emerged that Ventura had retreated to Rome and was living in a Vatican-owned residence for elderly priest near St. Peter’s Square.

Go deeper

Pope Francis’ acceptance of Ventura’s resignation – at lightning speed for Vatican standards, given Ventura turned 75 barely a week ago – follows on from his other great successes December 17 in the fight against clerical sex abuse.

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Those triumphs, announced earlier Tuesday, are the abolition of the “pontifical secret” in abuse cases and the redefinition of child pornography in Church law as any images of minors under the age of 18, under from 14 previously.

In a commentary on the Pope’s new norms today, Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary for the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said the new rules would bring “greater coherence to the disciplinary system” against predator priests while still respecting the “moral duties of secrecy and confidentiality”.

“The fact that awareness of these criminal actions is no longer bound by the ‘pontifical secret’ doesn’t mean they’re cleared for publicity at will on the part of those possessing such awareness, which, in addition to being immoral, would injure the right to one’s good name”, Arrieta explained.

Giuseppe Dalla Torre, former president of the Vatican City State Tribunal, said the changes introduced today by Francis “contribute to favoring a transition in canon law from an attitude of diffidence and self-defense regarding civil law, to an attitude of trust and healthy collaboration”.

“The reasons which in the past led to including the gravest offenses against morals… among the materials subject to the pontifical secret are giving way to goods which, today, are perceived as higher and worthy of particular care… above all, the primacy of the human person offended in his or her dignity, all the more so in cases of weakness, [young] age or a natural incapacity”, Dalla Torre added.

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Why it matters

The Pope’s right-hand man and most-trusted investigator of clerical sex abuse, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, told Vatican Radio the Pope’s changes to the law were an “epochal decision”.

“Certain [ecclesiastical] jurisdictions would have easily quoted the pontifical secret … to say that they could not, and that they were not, authorized to share information with either state authorities or the victims”, Scicluna explained.

“Now that impediment, we might call it that way, has been lifted, and the pontifical secret is no more an excuse”, the Adjunct Secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed.

For her part, prominent Irish clerical abuse survivor and victims’ advocate, Marie Collins, tweeted that today’s reform waas “excellent news” that those affected by clergy sex aggressions had been hoping and calling for.

“At last a real and positive change”, Collins added.

Anne Barrett-Doyle, co-director of the US group BishopAccountability.org, said with his move today the Pope had taken “an overdue and desperately needed step”.

For the record

For his part, Vatican editorial director Andrea Tornielli called the Pope’s reforms an “historical” follow-up to the Vatican sex abuse summit in February with bishops from all over the world.

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“With the abolition of the pontifical secret for cases of sexual abuse against minors, Pope Francis continues on the path of transparency”, Tornielli wrote in a Vatican News editorial.

“The breadth of Pope Francis’ decision is evident: the well-being of children and young people must always come before any protection of a secret, even the ‘pontifical’ secret”.

Next on Novena:

Historic: Pope scraps pontifical secret in clergy abuse cases, raises age for child porn

Pope reminds cover-up convicted Cardinal Barbarin that victims must be “understood, appreciated, respected and loved”

Abuse-accused papal rep in France retreats to Rome

Historic: Vatican lifts statute of limitations on sex crimes of Spanish priest

Vatican takes big strides in abuse prevention, environmental protection

Pope to priests: sex abuse pain “cannot be for naught”

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